It has been five years since Jim Clymer died unhoused. Members of Housing First Umpqua, who keep his photograph at the top of their Facebook page, said he died waiting to get into rehab.
Housing First Umpqua opened its people’s town hall Tuesday evening by telling Clymer’s story, and said he is one of many homeless people who the system in Douglas County has failed.
“The services were just not available and accessible for Jim. He was ready to go to rehab, they didn’t have a bed. They would want him to show up at a certain time, he could not do that,” said Betsy Cunningham after the virtual meeting, which she led with Molly Solomon.
They both said not much has changed since Clymer died.
While showing a list of available services in Douglas County, including food pantries and treatment centers, Cunningham said there are still gaps in service for people who are homeless.
“I think you can see here, we don’t really have much,” Cunningham said. “Besides the Rescue Mission, we don’t even have a place where someone can eat five days a week.”
The group then tried to determine if there were more than three available toilets — total — downtown. Mike Fieldman, legislative assistant for Rep. Gary Leif and former director of the United Community Action Network, said he would check on Wednesday.
Throughout the meeting, Fieldman gave his input on long-term solutions to help people who are chronically homeless in Douglas County. Someone is considered chronically homeless if they have been consistently homeless for at least a year, or repeatedly homeless over the last three years.
According to the 2019 Point in Time Count, of the 260 homeless people in Roseburg, 30% are chronically homeless.
Among his solutions, Fieldman called for more coordination between services, by way of forming a city council committee, and more low-income housing development to speed up wait times for placement that can last several years. He also said the county needs to make things more accessible, especially for people outside the city.
“We need a navigation center, and a low-barrier shelter,” Fieldman said. “I think that would really go a long way to fill some gaps.”
Currently, there are no low-barrier shelters in Douglas County, meaning a no-questions-asked place where someone can sleep, regardless of factors such as sobriety, pets and disability requirements.
Toward the end of the meeting, Cunningham said strategies to combat the issue of homelessness have been analyzed enough by outside federal agencies and advocates. She said it is time for Roseburg’s city government to work past its “analysis paralysis.”
“The one thing, in my years of experience, that convinces bureaucrats and elected officials to do something different is when there’s enough people demanding that they do,” Cunningham said.